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Until flu shots come in, keep washing your hands
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Although a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel has recommended that school-age children get vaccinated for swine flu, manufacturers may not have the vaccine ready until October.

"The seasonal flu vaccine will be available in September and the H1N1 one will be ready in October, but we’re using the same precautions — washing hands, coughing into the inside of the elbow and staying home if sick," said Joye Burton, media relations manager for the Georgia Department of Community Health.

With Gainesville City and Hall County schools opening at the beginning of next week, the systems can’t do much about the swine flu vaccine but wait.

"We go by the guidance of the CDC and work with the local public health department, and as of now they don’t have specific information," said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for Hall County schools. "They’re still determining if it should be offered in other ways than through the health department, such as using schools as vaccination sites."

Until vaccines are available, nurses will continue to talk to parents and educate students.

"We’ll actively do hand hygiene with the students and tell them to report flu-like symptoms to a teacher or nurse," she said. "We’re telling parents about H1N1 symptoms and when to keep their child at home. We’re trying not to overreact, too, but we want to be prepared."

Gainesville schools will also promote hand-washing precautions.

"Personally, I feel like a seasonal flu shot is a good idea, as long as you check with your physician first," said Paula Soyer, head nurse of Gainesville City schools. "The best we can do is continue general precautions and wait to see what public health recommends."

David Palmer, public relations coordinator for District 2 Public Health, confirmed that an order has been placed for both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted last week to set vaccination priorities for pregnant women, health care workers and children six months and older. The second priority set includes parents and infant caregivers, adults with high-risk medical conditions and young adults between ages 19 and 24. About 120 million vaccine doses will be available in October and 160 million are in the priority groups. Health officials say they aren’t worried about supply because usually less than half of those recommended to get vaccinated actually get one. Last in line are adults 65 and older. Fewer cases have been reported in this age bracket due to high levels of immunity to the virus, health officials said.

CDC reported swine flu deaths at 353 last week, with 5,500 hospitalizations and 44,000 lab-confirmed illnesses. Although the virus continues to spread, the number of states with a large amount of activity has decreased to California, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey.

With August as National Immunization Awareness Month, Burton encouraged parents keep their children up-to-date with their recommended immunization schedules before heading back to school.

"Our department partners with the Georgia Department of Education as far as informing Georgia residents about what’s going on health-wise for school children," she said. "A joint letter will come out soon about the H1N1 vaccine in October. It’s so new, but there is a plan in place."

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